Monday, April 18, 2016

Disc Brakes Banned: Did Not See This Coming

After all the hype and build-up (by the bicycle industry - not the racers) disc brakes finally made it into the professional racing peloton. And now, for the moment at least, they're gone again.

Racer Francisco Ventoso of the Movistar team suffered a pretty nasty injury at this year's Paris-Roubaix when he was sliced and diced by a smokin' hot disc brake rotor, requiring surgery. After the incident, in an open letter, Ventoso asked, "Was there really anyone who thought things like Sunday's wouldn't happen? Really, nobody thought they were dangerous? Nobody realized they can cut, they can become giant knives?"

(from Cycling Weekly)
Ventoso continued, reiterating the concept of disc brakes as spinning knives or even "machetes" -- "I've been lucky: I didn't get my leg chopped off, it's just some muscle and skin. But can you imagine that disc cutting a jugular or a femoral artery? I would prefer not to."

As a result, the UCI is temporarily suspending their trial period for disc brakes in pro racing. As it was, this was the first year in which teams could use the brakes with as many riders and in as many racers as they wished.

Who'd have predicted such a thing?

Well, actually, a number of riders in the past couple of years expressed that very concern, but the push by the component manufacturers to get disc brakes onto pro bikes was a major effort. Pro racers and team mechanics were raising questions about the brakes at least two years ago, some of whom predicted the very type of situation faced by Ventoso.

In a 2014 VeloNews article, Garmin-Sharp team mechanic Geoff Brown was quoted saying, "Safety is a genuine concern. Disc rotors are sharp, like spinning knives that have been heated in a 500-degree oven. They can easily slice flesh, and will burn on contact after a hard stop." To which he then added "at least you'll get cut and cauterized at the same time."

(from Bike Radar)
The Association of Professional Cyclists (CPA) also urged a halt to disc brake use. "We have been talking about the risks of the use of disc brakes since months and we have sent letters in the past to the UCI and the organizers to avoid such risks. Now they are going to finally listen to our voice. We don't want to stop the progress but we want to find common solutions for the introduction of new technologies without risks for the riders and definitely with their involvement."

After Ventoso's letter hit social media, other professional racers chimed in about the risks. In a CyclingNews article about the incident and the subsequent ban on disc brakes, Ryder Hesjedal wrote in reference to the introduction of the technology, "I have felt this way since the very beginning! Should have never happened!"

Emotions are obviously running high - both in the wake of Ventoso's injuries, and the death of racer Antoine DemoitiƩ, who was killed at Ghent-Wevelgem when he was struck by one of the motorcycles that ride in and out of the race peloton. Some are claiming that the disc brake ban is emotionally motivated.

For instance, Stefano Cattai, the technical liaison for team BMC was quoted in Cycling Weekly, "People are acting emotionally, and they need to cool down." He continued by saying that teams need to put more time and investment into disc brakes, as well as finding a way to make them safer for racers. "We have to have a solution, we need to invest more time in disc brakes," Cattai said. If we didn't continue to do these things, we wouldn't even be here with mechanical shifting, people would still be using levers on their down tubes."

2011 Tour de France
Think about the logic of that argument for a moment. Essentially, we must make progress for the sake of progress. God forbid . . . "levers on their down tubes." By the way, how are those not "mechanical shifting"? I really have no idea whose interests he's looking out for.

In any case, emotional or not, I'm actually shocked at how fast the reaction was by UCI to halt the disc brake trial - considering how many racers have been killed or seriously injured by other vehicles within the races in the past few years and yet nothing has been done about that situation. These vehicles include team cars, support vehicles, race officials, and of course media vehicles.

There's no telling how long the ban will be in effect. I have no doubt though that this is not the end of disc brakes in pro racing. The manufacturers have too much investment riding on their adoption to let it go now. Though the racers aren't exactly bemoaning their "old tech" rim brakes, and nobody has been able to prove that disc brakes truly superior technology, I'm sure we'll see more disc brakes in pro racing.

We do have to make "progress" after all.


  1. I had to triple check the date here...nope it isn't April 1st...but the links bear out this story. How on earth does a disc brake turn into a super heated ninja star? Personally, I think disc brakes are unattractive but that's just me.

  2. So the UCI gets something right. Well, for now, anyway.

    You're right about the vehicle situation. And we almost never hear about it.

  3. Plastic covers for discs; ugly, but effective. Off-road motorcycles have used them some. But I agree, what are the discs for on road racing bikes? Another answer to a question nobody asked. As a genuine bike retrogrouch, none of my seven cycles has indexed shifting, much less 'brifters'. And yes, get the motor vehicles out of the peloton. It shouldn't be like riding in rush hour traffic, where we also woefully under acknowledge the danger of motor vehicles.

  4. I know next to nothing about pro cycling. Has there ever been a strike? Do the manufacturers own the pro peloton so thoroughly? Are the riders so replaceable? The power structure makes no sense to me. Forgive me if my questions are laughably naive.

  5. Let's establish that is was the disc. Footage of Ventoso shows no contact with disc.

  6. I think this comment by hampshire31 on the cyclingweekly report sums up my reservations best:

    This doesn't add up. For the medial side of his left leg to have been injured by the other rider's disc (which would have been on the left hand side of the other rider's bike), he would have to have straddled the other rider's back wheel while still on his bike.

    Much more likely that it was his pedal, or something attached to his own bike that caused the injury. Unless he was off the bike at the time of the injury - though he says he didn't fall down, and it was just his leg touching the bike, which implies he was still on his bike.

    If it was actually his right leg on the other hand - different story

    and this one by Lancsman:

    I am not a big fan of disc brakes on road bikes, but each to there own... However I find it difficult to understand how he has damaged his left leg in this incident? With all discs being mounted to the left of the wheel surely he would have cut his right leg on the offending bike ? Or has straddled the rear wheel of the disc bike at which point his handlebars would have been level or forward of the saddle line? Or was the offending bike pointing in the wrong way?

  7. He was involved in a crash. While he managed to stay upright, the rider he crashed into may not have, and thus the tangle of bodies and bikes may not have been as tidy as some think.

    The reason the UCI can act so quickly with disc brakes is because the permitted equipment is fully in the UCI's control, while race vehicles is a complicated issue with race organizers and media having considerable influence. The UCI does not police the races, that is up to the race organizers. Commissaires are not UCI employees.

    For better or worse, the UCI has limited powers and has to act deliberately after building consensus, on most issues.

    The UCI also has a limited budget, total annual revenue is about $8MM if I recall. This limits its ability to take rapid action in some cases. For instance, deploying dozens of $10K thermal imagers to search for hidden motors - while possible, this would require some time.

  8. I've been in the middle of 50 person pile-ups in pro races - it's not pretty and I would prefer to not have discs in that mix but technology must march on and vendors must sell you more stuff. That notwithstanding, in my opinion the real issue in the no one is mentioning (or thought about) is that to mix regular brakes and discs in situations like rainy descents changes the cornering profiles (slowing and setup) for the riders with discs. This has the potential to cause more accidents. Whatever they do, they should pick one type of brake or the other. And yes, I've been on strike in Italy with the rest of the peloton and riders are considered more replaceable than race horses. Italian racers have a union but that's another story.

    1. Thank you for sharing. I wondered about the different profiles in close proximity, and the importance of uniformity makes complete sense. When I think of the work required of every member of every such peloton to get there, what it takes—the achievement it represents—the notion of replaceability of individuals of such drive and competitive spirit is preposterous and painful. They—you—deserve better. But then if pain were a deterrent, no one would do it, I guess, and maybe there would be fewer retrogrouches.

    2. Thanks for commenting, George. It's great to get your perspective.

  9. Congratulations, Kyle. When you have George Mount commenting, you know you've hit the big time.

    1. Yeah -- I was kind of thinking the same thing.

  10. I'm just an uber retro grouch too, so this resonates with me.

  11. Ventoso never got that injury from a disc. Thats a lie. He has provided no proof of how he got that injury as its almost a phsycal impossibility. Still, hes managed to con the gullable there...